Tens of thousands of people have signed up to vote against Proposition 54, a ballot initiative designed to protect basic worker protections. As I’ve reported for The New York Times, the measure would bar any contract or agreement that precludes employment and prohibits any provision that sets limitations on the right to form and join trade unions would be illegal. Without some kind of legal path to organize like the union and collective bargaining laws give workers, Uber and similar companies may find their employees capable of striking — especially if it becomes necessary to strike in order to find a place to sleep or feed.
The measure, which currently has 65,577 voter signatures, needs to secure 537,120 signatures by early November to make it on the November 2020 ballot.
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Uber’s pushback against the initiative has been fierce. It now accuses the measure’s authors, two California labor lawyers, of “undermining the effectiveness of Proposition 54 because it violates common sense” with a list of supposed problems. Opponents’ facts are false and muddled, the company argues, and calling the workers opposing the measure “sleep-deprived workaholics” doesn’t help.
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In reality, a fair-wage worker taking on Uber in its current form is unlikely to be able to support herself or his family. That’s because Uber relies on commission for many of its business, and compensating its drivers as part-time employees is pretty much impossible.
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Our assumption is that the ride-hailing giant, like other gig companies, either doesn’t have a formal company policy about work hours, can’t determine the timing of work commitments, or else, has applied for workman’s compensation and isn’t collecting the wages the workers are entitled to. As I’ve explained, as long as a business offers its employees nontraditional worker status, or as long as drivers have the right to pick and choose their hours, the government has effectively legalized what Uber has repeatedly labeled as a “driver’s lifestyle.” Even as the company scaled its business and demanded higher-level employees, drivers continued to work on short-term basis. Though Uber has announced recently that drivers will now be able to work more than 60 hours a week, if you’re not being paid out an hourly rate as a direct result of that work, your full-time gig is probably a scam. Even Uber and Lyft employees have to get picked up by a personal car. This arrangement is both remarkably generous and rife with employer exploitation.
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Workers who are trying to organize or who have made use of the state’s workers’ comp system on nights or weekends face enormous hurdles. Contract workers and travelers who have been on the road for more than 120 days need the company’s permission to have sleep in their cars or at their hostels and they’re not allowed to have a vehicle of their own for extended periods of time. This means that a drivers who has to travel hundreds of miles to get to the nearest work site may not be able to get home until the following week. It’s unlikely that the ballot measure would effectively just dissolve a loophole in California’s law on workers’ comp, but it could encourage more contractors to withhold driver’s licenses and also make it easier for workers to sue over injuries or non-payment of wages.